After the Paris murders, ambivalence about Aliya

The four victims of the Paris Hyper Cacher attack, from left to right: Yoav Hattab, Yohan Cohen, Francois-Michel Saada, Philippe Braham.

The funerals of the four Jewish victims of the terrorist attack on the Paris kosher supermarket took place in Jerusalem on Tuesday. Family and friends and Israeli political leaders delivered eulogies in a very moving ceremony which was impressively well-attended by thousands of mourners.

Thousands of people attend the funeral ceremony of the four Jewish victims of an Islamist terror attack on a Paris kosher grocery, held at Har HaMenuchot cemetery in Jerusalem, on January 13, 2015. (photo credit: by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Guardian, of all papers, had a nicely written article about the funeral including a mini-bio of each of the victims:

Yoav Hattab

The youngest of the Kosher supermarket victims, Hattab was described by friends as a hardworking student who always had a smile on his face.

Hattab, 21, was completing his studies in Paris and worshipped at a synagogue every week. He was the son of chief rabbi Benjamin Hattab of Tunis, and had grown up in La Goulette, a coastal town in the suburbs of Tunis. He returned frequently to visit his family.

Young Tunisians on social media have been sharing a television interview in which the rabbi speaks passionately of the easy, mutually respectful relationship between Jews and Muslims in Tunisia. In contrast, Hattab’s father says that the atmosphere in Paris felt so hostile towards Jews. The rabbi says his son called him to apologise for being unwilling to run the risk of wearing his yarmulke (skullcap) in public.

A relative told Israeli media that Hattab had just returned to Paris from Israel as part of a Birthright project, which is a free tour to Israel offered to young diaspora Jews around the world. A friend of Hattab said his ultimate aim was to move to Israel, even though the Birthright trip was his first time in the country. He came from a family of seven children.

Phillipe Braham

The 40-year-old father of four worked at an insurance firm near the kosher supermarket where he was shot dead by Amédy Coulibaly. He was shopping for groceries for the sabbath when the attack began on Friday. He worshipped at a synagogue in Montrouge, in the southern suburbs of Paris, according to French news reports.

His 14-year-old son, Refael Braham, was reportedly in Israel when he received the news of his father’s death. Braham lived with his wife, Valerie, in a small town called L’Haÿ-les-Roses, five miles south-west from the centre of Paris.

He was a devout Jew and his brother-in-law, Shai Ben-David, told Israeli media that Braham’s “dream was to make aliyah [move to Israel] – and he never made it”. Ben-David added: “He loved Israel. He buried his parents and son there. He was an observant man who never harmed anyone.” Friends described him as “someone dedicated, always ready to help others”.

Yohan Cohen

Cohen, 20, had worked at Hyper Cacher for a year to save up for his planned wedding to his girlfriend, Sharon Seb. He is believed to have been the first victim of the siege at the kosher supermarket. Yohan had tried to stop a three-year-old being shot by the terrorist, according to Israeli news reports.

Cohen, an economics student and fan of rap music, had ambitions to work in a bank. Israeli media reported that his parents were from Algeria and settled in Sarcelles, France, in the 1960s. He was a grandson of a Jewish-Tunisian singer, Doukha, who died in December.

His cousin, Sharon Cohen, said on social media that “Yoyo” – as he was known – was “an example of kindness and goodness”. She added: “You were the pride of your family and all your friends!” He leaves behind two brothers and a sister.

François-Michel Saada

The Tunisian-born retired father of two, 64, was described by friends as an, “exemplary husband and father”. Both his adult children live in Israel and he leaves his wife of 30 years, a psychomotor therapist.

May Hashem avenge their blood and may their families be comforted amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

יהי זכרם ברוך

The Times of Israel reports on the eulogies delivered by the politicians:

Rivlin and Netanyahu both stressed the imperative for Europe and the free world to fight Islamic extremism. They also both encouraged immigration, but Rivlin stressed that aliyah should be through choice not desperation, and said the free world had an obligation to ensure that Jews be able to live in security anywhere.Said Rivlin: “Dear families, Yoav, Yohan, Philippe, Francois-Michel, this is not how we wanted to welcome you to Israel. This is not how we wanted you to arrive in the Land of Israel, this is not how we wanted to see you come home, to the State of Israel, and to Jerusalem, its capital. We wanted you alive, we wanted for you, life. At moments such as these, I stand before you, brokenhearted, shaken and in pain, and with me stands an entire nation.”

He stressed that the four were killed because they were Jews: They “were murdered on the eve of the Sabbath, in a kosher supermarket in Paris, in cold blood, because they were Jewish. The murderer made sure to be in a Jewish shop, and only then did he carry out the massacre. This was pure, venomous evil, which stirs the very worst of memories. This is sheer hatred of Jews; abhorrent, dark and premeditated, which seeks to strike, wherever there is Jewish life. In Paris, in Jerusalem, in Toulouse, and in Tel Aviv. In Brussels, and in Mumbai. In the streets, and in the synagogues. In the schools, and in the local market. In the train stations, and in the museums.”

Concluded the president: “We cannot allow it to be the case, that in the year 2015, 70 years since the end of the Second World War, Jews are afraid to walk in the streets of Europe with skullcaps and tzitzit. It cannot be allowed that we should see in the news frequent vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, of Jews being beaten, and of synagogues and communities under attack. It is no longer possible to ignore or remain ambiguous, or to act weakly or with leniency against the rabid anti-Semitic incitement. Ignorance and violence will not simply go away on their own.”

In his remarks, Netanyahu said world leaders were beginning to understand radical Islam.

“I think that most (world leaders) understand — or are at least starting to understand — that this terror committed by extremist Islam represents a clear and present threat to peace in the world in which we live,” he said.

“Islamist terror … is not just the enemy of the Jewish people but of all humanity. It is time all people of all cultures united to eject these elements from among us.”

Netanyahu hailed the power and resilience of the Jewish people, who have “managed to rise from the ashes” to build “a thriving state” in which the Jews determine their own destiny.” Israel, he said, would always receive Jews “with open arms.”

“More than ever, today,” the prime minister said, “Israel is the Jewish homeland,” and the more Jews there are here, “the stronger we will be in our homeland.”

Royal, the French government’s number three, represented Paris at the funeral. In her eulogy, Royal pledged France will not tolerate anti-Semitism and will “unfailingly” fight it. “France without Jews is not France,” she said.

“Anti-Semitism has no place in France,” said Royal. “I want to assure you of the unfailing determination of the French government to fight against all forms and acts of anti-Semitism.”

For anyone who deems living in Israel, or Aliya – immigration to Israel – as the highest expression of Zionism, it might be surprising to learn that these calls for Aliya, whether out of choice or out of necessity, have not always gone down well, not only in non-Jewish circles but in the Jewish world too.

Embattled French Jews have ambivalent feelings about the call to emigrate:

“To all the Jews of France, all the Jews of Europe, I would like to say that Israel is not just the place in whose direction you pray; the State of Israel is your home,” Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday in Jerusalem, the day after an attack on a Paris kosher supermarket that killed four Jewish men.

“This week, a special team of ministers will convene to advance steps to increase immigration from France and other countries in Europe that are suffering from terrible anti-Semitism. All Jews who want to immigrate to Israel will be welcomed here warmly and with open arms,” he said.

But for French Jews, the answer isn’t so simple.

“The Israeli government must stop this Pavlovian response every time there is an attack against Jews in Europe,” Rabbi Menachem Margolin, the director of the European Jewish Association, told the Israeli news website NRG.

The crux of the dispute — one that is hardly limited to Netanyahu and Margolin — are divergent views about the viability of Diaspora Jewish life.

On one side are the many Israelis who believe Diaspora Jewry has no future due to anti-Semitism (see: France) or assimilation (see: America), and often believe that Jewish life in the Diaspora is somehow less authentic or legitimate than Jewish life in Israel.

On the other side are many Diaspora Jews who see themselves as part and parcel of their home countries and consider their communities vibrant expressions of Jewish life. In their view, Israeli calls for aliyah in response to the challenges they face are offensive and counterproductive. Instead, they believe, Israel ought to be thinking about how it can help Diaspora Jewish communities thrive.

Netanyahu is hardly the first prime minister to ruffle feathers in the Diaspora this way. In July 2004, then-premier Ariel Sharon irked French Jews with a similar call.

In the United States, Israeli novelist A.B. Yehoshua ignited a firestorm in 2006 when he told the audience at a centennial celebration of the American Jewish Committee that American Jews are only “partial Jews” because they live in the Diaspora.

“Judaism cannot exist outside Israel,” he said, according to an account in Israel’s daily Haaretz. “Those who do not live in Israel and do not participate in the daily decisions that are made there … do not have a Jewish identity of any significance.”

French Jews are in a much different situation than American Jews, however, in that they face the threat of physical violence. Add France’s serious economic problems and many French Jews agree with the view that the prognosis for their community is bleak.

“We do not have a future here,” Joyce Halimi, who attended a vigil for victims of the Hyper Cacher supermarket attack on Saturday night, told JTA. “The government talks, but it’s only words.”

In 2014, nearly 7,000 French immigrants arrived in Israel out of a French Jewish population of 500,000. That’s the equivalent, proportionately, of 84,000 American Jews moving to Israel. The actual number of Americans who immigrated to Israel in 2014 was 3,470.

Additionally, the highly symbolic decision by all four families of the Hyper Cacher attack victims to bury their loved ones in Israel reinforces the message that French Jews have a dim view of their future in France.

Of course, not all of those who are emigrating are moving to Israel. Montreal, Miami, London and New York all have seen significant numbers of French Jewish newcomers over the last decade or so.

 One French Jew who is moving to Israel is the owner of the kosher supermarket which was the target of the Islamic terrorists last Friday.

“[Patrice] doesn’t have any sense of security in France. He just wants to live quietly and in peace, so it is easier for him to live in Israel,” his sibling added.

“He does not want to die in France. He wants to live in Israel. That is his dream.”

Netanyahu’s call to French Jews to make Aliya upset the French government as much as it did the Jews:

On Saturday, Netanyahu called on French Jews to move to Israel. “To all the Jews of France, all the Jews of Europe, I would like to say that Israel is not just the place in whose direction you pray, the state of Israel is your home,” Netanyahu said.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, former finance minister Yair Lapid and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman issued similar calls.

But French Prime Minister Manuel Vals expressed different sentiments altogether.

“If 100,000 French people of Spanish origin were to leave, I would never say that France is not France anymore. But if 100,000 Jews leave, France will no longer be France. The French Republic will be judged a failure,” Valls said ahead of a memorial rally in honor of those killed in France in recent days.

Similar differences of opinion have arisen in the past after anti-Semitic attacks.

Not only the French, but the British government too has suddenly become nervous at the thought of its Jewish community emigrating en masse because of a massive rise in antisemitic attacks and a resurgence of anti-semitic sentiment as revealed in a shocking new survey,

A poll of 2,230 British Jewish people by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism (CAA) found that 45 percent feared Jews have no future in Britain, and 58% were concerned they have no long-term future in Europe.

The online survey was conducted from December 23 to January 11 — a period that spanned the attacks in Paris that targeted the Charlie Hebdo magazine and a kosher supermarket, leading France to increase security at Jewish schools and synagogues.

A second survey, conducted by pollster YouGov for the CAA, found anti-Semitic views to be common among British people.

Of the 3,411 adults surveyed, 45% believed at least one statement defined as anti-Semitic.

Against this background, the British government has sought to reassure British Jews that they certainly don’t need to move:

Prominent British politician William Hague, the Leader of the House of Commons, told members of Britain’s Jewish community on Monday that there is no need for them to leave the country amid fear of antisemitism following last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris, the UK’s Jewish News reported on Tuesday.

“We in the government and security services will work hard to keep everybody safe but that requires the participation of all communities, to give a strong lead and show that terrorism is the wrong way,” Hague said at an event held at the JW3 Jewish center. He reassured community members that they “definitely” don’t need to leave Britain.

As mentioned above, Netanyahu’s call to Aliya angered some Jewish leaders:

Rabbi Menachem Margolin, the director of the European Jewish Association (EJA), expressed his concern at Israel’s tendency to portray immigration to Israel (Aliyah in Hebrew) as the only solution.

“Aliyah is one’s personal yearning and should definitely be a goal for the State of Israel. However, anyone who is familiar with the European reality knows that a call to make Aliyah is not the solution for anti-Semitic terror,” Rabbi Margolin said.

The rabbi emphasized that the “Israeli government must increase security for the European Jewish community Rather than just repeat Pavlovian calls for Aliyah after every terror attack”

I thought this an odd thing to say. It is not the responsibility of the Israeli government to protect European Jews. Even if they wished, they could not do so for reasons of sovereignty in foreign countries.

According to Rabbi Margolin, Jews who wish to make aliyah do not need these kind of calls and continue to immigrate to Israel, and in light of the horrific events in Paris, aliyah to Israel has increased anyway.


The head of the umbrella organization of French Jewry, Roger Cukierman, also urged French authorities to increase protection for Jews. …

“While I respect the decision of Jews who leave for Israel, one must also fight in France against the enemies of Judaism,” he said when asked about Netanyahu’s call. “This position,” he added, “corresponds to the that of the Zionism found by Theodor Herzl – Israel is a refuge for all who feel in danger”.

This idea of Israel being a refuge is echoed in a Tablet article (via Harry’s Place):

The fact that the crowd cheers when Netanyahu enters the synagogue has nothing to do with whether the people gathered inside are socialist or conservative voters, or would vote for Netanyahu in an election in either Israel or France, or whether they support or oppose a two-state solution or a one-state solution or continued Israeli settlement of the West Bank. As in every Jewish crowd, there are no doubt people in all camps. The reason they are cheering is far more basic, and it has to do with the harsh lesson that history has engraved into the souls of every conscious and self-aware Jew in the world today. We know that when our lives are in danger, the states where we have built businesses and professional lives and raised our children may or may not protect us, and the same is true of our friends and neighbors. That lesson of the Holocaust is simply too clear and too costly for any of us to ignore.

The reason that Jews can live normal lives as citizens of Western democracies today is not that human nature has markedly improved since 1945, or that another series of attacks by anti-Semitic fanatics is unthinkable. Sadly, that’s not true, as the events of the last week and the last year in Paris show. We are not afraid because we know, whether overtly or in a dark half-acknowledged corner of our minds, that there is one state in the world—however imperfect it is in some of its particulars—where we and our children will be welcome, and whose government will do its best to protect us, with all the force at its disposal.

French Jewish Olim

Theodore Herzl might have come up with the idea of a Jewish homeland in response to the wave of (French, again) antisemitism engulfing the country during the Dreyfuss trial. But is a refuge in time of danger the sole purpose of Zionism? Not so says Prof. Gil Troy in a recent Jerusalem Post article entitled “We are home. We are staying. We are not going away” (which I highly recommend you read it all):

We are home. Israel is the Jewish people’s homeland. The link is deep and enduring, meaningful and nourishing, multi-dimensional and mutually reinforcing.

The Jews are a people, not just a religion, with a homeland and collective rights to it, like other nations.  From the beginning – Bereisheit, Genesis – the Jewish people bonded with Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel. In the Bible, the Jewish people’s founding moment is a land-based moment. Abram becomes Abraham when, leaving his birthplace, he goes home to his new homeland, Israel. God promises: I will make of you a great people.

…Israel is the living repository of our first great strides on the world stage. Here, our ancestors developed the subversive idea of one unseen deity, not multiple action figures. Here, they invented the healing notion of a weekly day of rest. Here, they pioneered the religious-ethical ideal of linking serving the Lord with being good to one another. Here, Samuel the prophet taught the powerful King David that no person is above the law, as the countercultural notion of every individual being equal in rights emerged. In short, here the seeds of democracy were first planted, cultivated, and harvested – mocking those who see only contradictions between “Jewish” and “democratic,” overlooking their overlaps.

We are home. We are staying. We are not going away. The Jewish people were reborn when we reestablished our nation-state, just as so many other countries have in the last 200 years. Israelis are among earth’s happiest, most family-oriented, most community-minded people. Israeli men have the West’s lowest mortality rates, another repudiation of the Palestinian death cult.

Even if we didn’t like it here, where we would go? Some Jews have individual ties to other countries, personal escape routes. But collectively? Europe rejected us with genocide. America is not seeking 8 million immigrants. When Amos Oz’s father lived in Vilna, “every wall in Europe said, ‘Jews go home to Palestine.’” Today we’re told “Jews get out of Palestine.” Oz concludes: “A Jewish refuge is just and necessary.”

Israel is not just a “Jewish refuge,” that’s too defensive. Israel is a Jewish opportunity, a Zionist laboratory, a great human adventure. We are writing a glorious new chapter in Jewish history here, in today’s greatest collective Jewish people project. That project’s appeal trumps my disappointment that so many Europeans and academics blindly dismiss any questions about Palestinian nationalism as bigotry, while repudiating Jews’ older ties to Israel and longer national consciousness. The inspiration of the Israel experiment pre-empts any sourness I might develop, if all I did was contemplate the many lives Palestinian terrorists have destroyed.  And the nobility of the Zionist vision pushes me to perfect this old-new state on our ancient homeland, to make sure it fulfills the highest Jewish and democratic ideals – in life not with laws — acknowledging the creative tension between those ideas, like many appealing ideas.

Gil Troy’s words are really the best description, explanation and motivation to make Aliya and to make Israel a home for Jewish individuals as well as for the Jewish people as a whole.

Of course Israel will always be a refuge for Jews in distress too, and our vaunted security forces will come to the rescue in time of danger too. But why not take up Troy’s challenge and live in Israel for all its positive points and not just wait until danger strikes? By then it might well be too late.

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6 Responses to After the Paris murders, ambivalence about Aliya

  1. With violent enemies on all sides of Israel — in Gaza, in Jerusalem and in parts of Israel adjacent to Syria, for example — there is a likelihood of even more pervasive, and perhaps more deadly, attacks on Israel than in the recent past. Such attacks are encouraged and supported by Israel’s Persian and Arab enemies, not to mention the United Nations. Hence, I consider questionable the apparent view of some that Israel is safer than, for example, France.

    However, personal comfort and safety do not seem to be the real issue. Israel is, of course, the only Jewish homeland and must remain so, despite continuing and perhaps worse attacks. That, I hope, is the principal reason why Jews seek to return home, just as though if one’s parents were facing existential dangers, one would want to be with and help them.

    • anneinpt says:

      Dan, you’re perfectly right about the safety of being in Israel. In fact I was searching for an article (an Israeli article) saying in a cynical way the same thing, i.e. “make aliya and get murdered in Israel instead” or words to that effect.

      The difference is that in Israel we have our own army to protect us, our own government to whom to address grievances, and Jews are not at the mercy of a government which may or may not be friendly, hostile or capricious.

      It might not make much sense, after all, dead is dead. But I remember clearly as a teen living in England under constant threat of attacks by the IRA, thinking that if I’ve got to die, I’d rather die as a Jew in my homeland rather than die for England.

      Of course that can give rise to accusations of dual loyalty, to Israel and the host country, and that is indeed a dilemma and part of most Jews’ “split personality”. My only defence is that in the general run of things, Jews don’t seek to impose their religion or culture on anyone. They just want to be left in peace. Muslims on the other hand, at least the “extremists”, want to impose their religion on everyone and will kill anyone who doesn’t submit. That’s the difference in the dual loyalty charge.

      I hope I haven’t been rambling here. I think I sound a bit incoherent but it’s so hard to formulate my thoughts in an expressable way.

  2. Pete says:

    Anne – thank you for the coverage and the bio’s of the victims. I thought the ceremony in Israel for the victims was very moving … so many people came! That is very emotional.

    I know that one of the victims in the supermarket tried to fight with the terrorist – tried to grab his assault rifle. Based on the bio’s, it sounds like it was Yohan Cohen. It was a great attempt by him, and it’s too bad that he did not succeed. He was a hero for trying such a move!

    I also thought that the personal comments from Yoav Hattab were eye-opening and very moving. You mean to say, he couldn’t even wear his yarmulke in public in Paris. My goodness, WHAT is the world coming to? WHAT is France coming to, when this kind of thing goes on?

    Perhaps this incident is simply a stark reminder of horrible violence, and discrimination against Jews. But I have to wonder if we are headed towards a world where Israel becomes very isolated, and “cannot find a friend anywhere” amongst the nations. I hope not. But you have to wonder?

    best wishes,
    Pete, USA

    • anneinpt says:

      Pete, I too was surprised to learn from Yoav Hattab’s words that it was more dangerous for Jews in Paris than in Tunis. Most Arab countries, however friendly to Jews on the surface, have a limit to their tolerance, so this statement was rather shocking. Sadly this is the situation in many European countries today.

      You ask what is the world, or France coming to? They have a huge Muslim population which is inherently antisemitic. Combine that with latent antisemitism that is prevalent in Europe and you get a combustible combination.

      Maybe this incident will be a wake-up call. Previously, when Jews have been targeted, e.g the Toulouse school killings or the Brussels Museum killing, there has been outrage and lots of bombastic speeches, and then everything goes back to normal because, hey, it’s only Jews who were the target.

      But the Jihadis overplayed their hand this time and struck against a French secular target – the very heart of what the French hold dear. So it’s possible the French will now take action finally against that extremist section of their Muslim immigrants.

      I don’t’ agree with all the “Israel is isolated” talk. Don’t believe everything you read in the papers or on the internet. The media is very anti-Israel in general, but they don’t necessarily reflect life as it is, only as they wish it to be. Yes, life is not easy for us diplomatically and politically, but behind the scenes there is a huge amount of international cooperation, not to mention multilateral trade and tourism.

  3. Reality says:

    I’ve been saying for a long time that there is no place in Europe to continue life as a Jew there.Even as a youngster we always knew of friends or relatives beaten up because they were Jews.
    However,sadly we cannot assure 100%that our govt.will stand up to Hamas,Hezbollah etc..because they too are either afraid of our leftist opposition,or what the world will say. Having said that,I always said I’d rather die defending my family in MY country,than live in fear,or be hunted down as a Jew in Europe.At the time over 30years ago my friends laughed at me..
    So at the end of the day Thank G-d we live in Israel,a Jewish state .As for Europe,well I just read that Belgium stopped a big attack on Jews last night

    • anneinpt says:

      It’s not exactly 1938 in Europe – yet – but I agree that the only place for Jews to live, simply for religious and ideological reasons, is in Israel. I agree with your other sentiments too.

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